Despite the traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, and years of PTSD, Otha Smith considers himself one of the lucky ones.
Pronounced dead at the scene of a car accident in 2003, a friend and medical student he was traveling with performed CPR until a medivac helicopter arrived, giving him another chance at life.
Smith eventually recovered, but “started to go down a really dark path” with the prescription medications, so he turned to cannabis.
Years later, when medical cannabis was legalized in Maryland, where he lives, Smith told The Cannigma how he suddenly had access to a whole world of weed he had never encountered with his old dealer. He had to find the products helped him the most, and it was a lot more work than just choosing a jar with a pleasant-enough sounding strain name.
Fast-forward to 2020, and Smith and two co-founders launched “Tetragram,” a mobile app designed to help medical cannabis patients determine which products — including which strains, formulations, and delivery methods — work best for their ailments or even their recreational use goals.
Tyler Dautrich, the COO of Releaf, another cannabis journaling app, told The Cannigma that his app “is geared towards helping that individual lessen the amount of time and money they spend in that trial and error process and strictly hone in on what works for them.”
Both apps are technological tools for journaling, a technique that can be used by medical patients looking to treat specific symptoms or conditions, but also by recreational cannabis users trying to hone in on the products and delivery methods that will reliably produce the effects they’re looking for.
What is cannabis journaling?
Cannabis journaling can be in the form of a simple diary or journal, Hello Kitty stationary, or an Excel spreadsheet on your computer. Online apps like Releaf and Tetragram are growing in popularity, and are well-suited for a smartphone.
Journaling can make cannabis use more mindful, deliberate and based on goals, past experiences, and your own personally cultivated data tracking what works best for you. It’s a way of getting the most out of the legal cannabis field in which there is an almost bewildering amount of options.
It can also help cannabis consumers tune out some of the noise, Dautrich said.
“As legalization trends continue and more and more options become available, companies are branding completely different products in the same way so there a lot of products that are labeled differently than what they’re actually for,” Dautrich stated, adding that “with journaling, you have a lot of knowledge and data and information backing up your purchase so you know you’ll get a similar outcome.”
When you go to the grocery store or pharmacy, Dautrich explained, even if you can’t find the exact brand and product you’re looking for, you can be confident that you can find an alternative that produces the same results. Cannabis consumers do not have that luxury.
Dautrich said that there isn’t a typical Releaf user, and that their users include new cannabis consumers who are looking for some help navigating the world of cannabis, as well as connoisseurs who are using the app to track their consumption and rate different brands and products. He likened the connoisseurs using the app to craft beer fans who use similar apps for beer, to record beers they’ve tried, the taste profiles, aromas, and how they feel.
But what should cannabis users be journaling?
What to track in your cannabis journal
Regardless of what journaling method you decide upon, it is important to take some time and set it up and acquaint yourself before attempting to record your first session or product. There are many different ways to journal your cannabis use — a lot will depend on your goals of treatment but also what information or insight you hope to gain from journaling. From the sections below, pick those that feel most relevant to why you are journaling your cannabis, and make sure to be consistent so that can easily spot trends and useful insights later.
- Set and setting
When and where is the particular cannabis session. What is the time? The date? How do you feel as you start? Is there anything unique about the situation or about how you feel?
- Your goals
Why are you using cannabis right now? Are you looking to treat specific symptoms or alleviate a particular health condition? Are you looking to relax in the evening or find a product that produces an energetic high during the day? Do you just want to get a good night’s sleep? Identifying and setting your usage goals allows you to gauge which products produce the results you are looking for, and which miss the mark.
- Product type, delivery method, and dosage
How are you taking the cannabis? Are you smoking? (If so, from a pipe or bong or joint?) Vaping? Using a tincture? Taking an edible? Different delivery methods can affect you in different ways, even if they come from the same chemovar or strain. How much are you taking? Be specific! With edibles and tinctures it’s easier to know what dose you took down to the milligram, but if you’re smoking a joint or using a vape pen, write down how many puffs you took.
- Product details
Different products can have the same strain name but different cannabinoid and terpene profiles, and different batches of the same product produced by the same company can even have different THC or CBD levels. That’s why recording the brands and products names is so important for making sure you are able to replicate the good sessions and avoid revisiting the disappointing ones. While this often involves writing down the strain name, as long as you’re also noting the brand and product name you should have all the information you need.
- Cannabinoid and terpene profile
Recording the THC, CBD, and other cannabinoid content of your cannabis product is crucial. If it’s flower or a vape pen, you’ll want to record the listed percentage of THC, CBD, or other dominant cannabinoids. If it’s a tincture, edible, drinkable, or capsule, you’ll want to record the milligram unit of each cannabinoid that you are taking during your session. But don’t stop there. Terpenes can also have a major impact on the effects, as well as the flavor and aroma of your cannabis. Knowing and recording which terpenes are present in your cannabis is an important tool for figuring out what cannabis products work for you.
- How it made you feel
This is the most important part. How did the session make you feel? Did you achieve your goals? Relieve your symptoms? For how long? Did you like the way it made you feel? Were there any adverse side effects? If it’s helpful, you can rank each of the effects from 1-10 to track how effective the session was for each of your goals. Just make sure you’re consistent with how you record this info — it will make it easier to compare and see what is working best. Ultimately, this is the most crucial factor in determining if a product is right for you and it is at the core of why cannabis journaling is important.
After a few, dozens, or hundreds of entries into your cannabis journal, you should be able to see the common denominators of what factors contributed to a successful session — be it the dose, cannabinoid profile, terpene profile, delivery method, time of day, or any combination of those or others. Don’t be discouraged if the answers aren’t apparent right off the bat — it could be a process of narrowing a broad range of products down to a few. You may even find that different products work for you in different situations or for treating different symptoms. A cannabis journal can also be very helpful to bring to your next doctor’s appointment to discuss what is and isn’t working in order to find the right treatment regimen.
Different cannabis journals
There are several options out there for journaling your cannabis use, whether it’s as a patient, budding connoisseur, or any other reason. You can go the DIY route and make your own physical journal or Excel sheet with custom formulas, use one of the specially designed online apps, or purchase a beautiful physical cannabis journal.
Designed with what the company describes as “the basic principle that there had to be a better way to track and demystify the world of medical cannabis,” Releaf is a free mobile app that allows users to track a wide range of aspects of their cannabis use, including their dosing, level of symptom relief, feelings, and side effects, among others. The app also provides customized trends and insights that are based on the user’s own input.
On the app’s “sessions” dashboard, users can review all of their sessions in detail. While on the “cannabis on hand” section, users can organize all of the different cannabis products they have at the moment, by name, rating, and date.
Rating makes it easy to see which product has been the most effective for the user, in that it presents a score which is the average rating the user gave it for each parameter. Users can also provide feedback on products at any time.
Tetragram is a free “smart, digital journal that helps you get the most out of medical cannabis.”
The app allows users to create a digital diary of their cannabis experiences by way of sessions in which the user logs a series of data points including strain, product, intake method, dispensary where it was purchased, symptoms treated, quality of experience, and flavor and appearance.
Users can rate each individual cannabis product and share their ratings as well as photos and comments with the community of Tetragram users.
The app can also be used to find similar products to ones that worked well for the user.
The app is fully customizable for every user’s particular cannabis needs and goals.
Anybody who has ever held a beautiful glass pipe in their hand or gazed longingly at a perfect trimmed and cured, frosty nug of cannabis knows that sometimes form can be almost — but not quite — as important as function.
Goldleaf produces a wide variety of sophisticated, informative, and handy journals for all types of cannabis users. The templated and educational notebooks are suited for everyday users, patients, and growers alike, and come complete with infographics and artwork covering a variety of topics in cannabis.
Take for instance “the Cannabis Taster,” a “pocket journal for those who appreciate fine cannabis.” It comes with 25 full-spread templated entry pages, as well as purveyor sections for logging favorite dispensaries, growers, and products, as well as flavor and terpene infographics.
And of course, if none of those strike your fancy, you can find lots of custom-made and beautifully designed cannabis journals on Etsy.
How journaling can make cannabis better
In addition to helping patients optimize their cannabis use, online cannabis journaling platforms can also have a potential benefit to the cannabis industry. The anonymized data is made available to scientists and people within the cannabis industry, to help them design products with the right chemical profiles to treat specific conditions and symptoms.
According to Smith, “all this aggregated data we’re collecting we can provide to the medical professionals and say listen, this is no longer a ‘he said, she said’ — we have actual data about these strains and products and how effective they are at addressing medical conditions.”
A December 2020 study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research examined data from 670 users, who recorded their cannabis use sessions with the Releaf app. The study looked at how cannabis use changed feelings of agitation/irritability, anxiety, and stress, as well as side effects, producing findings that could be of valuable use to cannabis producers.
According to the researchers, the data indicated a decrease in symptoms intensity levels in 95.51% of cannabis usage sessions. The data also served to indicate that mid and high THC forms of cannabis “were the primary independent predictor of increased symptom relief.”
Dautrich said the Releaf app isn’t meant to replace the doctor-patient relationship, rather, to improve it by helping both patients and doctors have a more informed and educated relationship with cannabis.
He added that Releaf is also working with companies in the cannabis industry, to allow them to use customer reports to help them improve formulation decisions for their products, as well as which products to market to which customers.
How doctors view cannabis journaling
Dr. Lewis Jassey is the Medical Director of Pediatric Medicine at Leafwell, a network of online medical cannabis clinics. He told The Cannigma that in his practice he uses a form that patients can fill out to describe their health condition and how it affects their daily life. This information is later used to determine how medical cannabis is helping these issues, in order to gain what he describes as “an objective barometer to determine if treatment is working for a patient.”
Jassey shared a version of the questionnaire used for chronic pain patients, which contains nearly two dozen questions about their history with pain.
“This is designed to establish that there is a true medical indication for you and your body and it’s not just, ‘oh you’re in pain and I’m approving you [for medical cannabis].’”
For Jassey, this sort of data collection is key not only in helping the patient, but also in showing the efficacy of medical cannabis.
“We want to be pioneers and in the forefront of helping to demonstrate that medical cannabis can in fact help out with many conditions, but you have to have objectivity in your notes.”
Journaling and these forms of questionnaires are also a way of making sure that treatment is customized for that particular patient’s needs, Jassey said.
It’s not appropriate to take a cookie-cutter approach to every patient, Jassey said, adding that “this is not a meat market, or a factory, this is peoples’ lives and this is their day-to-day functionality and this is trying to establish medical cannabis in a more mainstream way and to do that you have to establish the credibility.”
“So it’s not about churning out the next patient, or how many patients I can see in a day. It’s about having meaningful experiences with them so that they can know what’s on their radar so when we have our next follow up I know what to look for and what their [cannabis] application should be,” he added.